Childhood & Early Life
Clare of Assisi was born Chiara Offreduccio, on July 16, 1194, in Assisi, Italy, to Favorino Sciffi, the count of Sasso-Rosso, and Ortolana, during the era of the Crusades (religious wars). She was the eldest child in the family. One of her younger sisters, Catarina, came to be known as the “Agnes of Assisi,” after joining her sister’s order.
Clare was raised amidst affluence, with her father being the representative of a highly influential Roman family. Her father owned a castle on Mount Subasio, along with a palace in Assisi. Clare received quality education as a child. She was also taught needlework and spinning yarn.
However, she was not too keen on pursuing academics. Her mother, Ortolana, was a highly religious woman, and this led Clare to develop an interest in religion.
She was a kind-hearted child who took great care of poor people around her locality. She would often set aside some food from her table to feed the hungry and the poor.
She was never influenced by material things, such as the luxuries she had, owing to her father’s immense wealth. She spent most of her time praying. She constantly searched for a more spiritual way of life.
As soon as she stepped into her teenage years, her parents began to prepare for her marriage. She was to have an arranged marriage with the groom chosen by her family, and the wedding was to take place according to her family’s traditions. However, one encounter with Saint Francis in her teenage years turned her life around.
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Saint Clare of Assisi
She heard a young Saint Francis preaching at a local church and became hugely inspired by him. She asked him to help her follow the manner of the ‘Gospel.’ However, she knew that her parents, especially her father, would never support her decision. On March 20, 1212, she sneaked out of her father’s house in the evening. She, along with her aunt Bianca and a friend, then went to meet St. Francis. Her hair was cut, and she gave up her rich clothes to don a plain robe and veil.
She moved to the convent of Benedictine nuns in San Paulo, located near Bastia. Her father was furious when he came to know about this. He went to her and asked her to come back to her house, but she refused. It is believed, she threw away her veil to reveal her cropped hair. She then told her father that she had chosen her path in life. She also stated that she would never marry, as she had accepted Jesus Christ as her husband.
She was sent to ‘Sant’ Angelo’ in Panzo, since she wished to stay further away from her family. This was a less popular monastery of Benedictine nuns. Sometime later, her little sisters, Catarina and Beatrix, too, joined her. They then moved to the church of ‘San Damiano,’ which was repaired by St. Francis himself. There, Clare founded the “Order of Poor Ladies.”
This was a life of extreme poverty, but many local young women, mainly from affluent families, joined the order. In its initial years, the order had no set rules. However, over the years, quite a few rules were written down, following the ‘Rule of St. Benedict.’ Clare opposed this, as she just wanted to lead a poor life, surviving on the charity of the good-hearted people who provided her (and the other nuns) food. She had decided to spend her life in the service of God.
The “Order of Poor Ladies of San Damiano” is still widely regarded as the beginning of the order. Clare became the widely accepted leader of the order. ‘San Damiano’ was known to be the strongest house of this particular order.
Pope Gregory IX visited her at ‘San Damiano,’ and after realizing that she was struggling, he asked her to take a less extreme vow of poverty. However, she denied the offer.
Her popularity increased in the nearby areas. She had become the synonym of poverty, mortification, and humility, the values that were preached by St. Francis. She memorized the ‘Office of the Passion,’ which was composed by St. Francis. She was also devoted to the ‘Blessed Sacrament.’ Many women in her family, including her sisters, her aunt, and her mother, had joined the order and had vowed to serve Jesus Christ.
Monasteries began spreading around Europe as Clare’s popularity crossed the borders. She also did a great job of providing encouragement to her spiritual father, Francis. Whenever Francis was in any doubt, he would go to Clare for advice. He also wanted to become a hermit later in his life, but it was Clare who inspired him to stick to the path of God and carry on spreading the message of the Divine.
Before he passed away, Francis arrived at ‘San Damiano’ to meet Clare. Clare tended to him in his final days. Francis wrote ‘Canticle of the Creatures’ during this time.
Following Francis’s death, Clare continued to spread the order to other places in Europe. She also fought with the pope’s order of weakening it by merging it with other orders, as that would have taken away the vow of “extreme poverty.”
In September 1240, the church of ‘San Damian’ and Assisi were attacked by invaders. It was said that Clare’s prayers to the Christ finally became the saving grace for the monastery and the town.
During her final years, in the late 1250s, she had become quite sick.
Death and Legacy
Clare of Assisi passed away on August 11, 1253. She was 59 years old at the time of her death. In her final moments, she thanked God for bringing her into this world.
Pope Alexander IV canonized her on September 26, 1255. The day following her death was set as the feast day for her followers.
She is often referred to as “Poor Clares.” Following her death, the order she had founded was renamed the “Order of Saint Clare.”